The Whitsunday Islands are an idyllic gateway to the Great Barrier Reef that lie just off Australia's rainforest-covered Queensland coastline. Known for their turquoise waters and tranquil beaches, you'll find an abundance of water-based activities to dive into here. These include snorkeling, diving, swimming, kayaking, and spending a night on a chartered catamaran. Or, stick to land and enjoy hiking, golfing, cycling, and learning about the local wildlife.

Getting Oriented

People enjoying the sunset at Airlie Beach in tropical north Queensland, Australia
Airlie Beach in Tropical North Queensland, Australia

Located off the northeastern coast of Australia, the Whitsunday Islands form a tropical paradise comprising 74 distinct islands, each with its captivating charm. As the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, they provide easy access to iconic experiences like sailing, helicopter tours, snorkeling, and kayaking. The islands are also home to the world-renowned Whitehaven Beach, frequently voted as the best beach in the world.

Whether you're a budget traveler or enjoy the finer things in life, you'll easily discover the perfect accommodation and activities—water and land-based—for your travel style. Customize your itinerary with short excursions or savor a leisurely-paced trip tailored to your preferences

Water-Based Excursions

Snorkel Near Whitehaven Beach

Snorkeling in the Whitsunday Islands
Take to the water to see colorful marine life on a snorkeling tour off Whitehaven Beach

Embark on an exhilarating boat and snorkeling tour that begins with a scenic ride from Airlie Beach to the renowned Whitsunday Beach. Here, you'll delight in a guided bushwalk leading to Hill Inlet Lookout, where beautiful sweeping views of Whitehaven Beach unfold before you. This beach, often voted as the "World's Best Beach," might seem familiar as it has been featured in several famous movies like "A Ticket to Paradise" and "Fool's Gold."

After soaking in the island's beauty and enjoying time on Whitehaven's pristine white sand beaches, you'll return to the boat for lunch. The adventure continues with an opportunity to snorkel among the vibrant corals and various tropical fish, making for a memorable experience. Learn more

Why our experts love it

"Hill Inlet Lookout is my favorite because it's minimal effort for an amazing payoff. The walk to the top is not very strenuous, and the colors are just incredible, with the swirling currents creating ever-changing patterns of turquoise and white. In the background, you have a bird's-eye view of the world's whitest sand beach, Whitehaven Beach. In my opinion, the best way to get there is on a high-speed boat ride like this that crams a lot into a day, including a walk to Hill Inlet Lookout, time on the stunning Whitehaven Beach itself, as well as some incredible snorkeling locations.

An organized tour is certainly the easiest way to get there, but if you want to rent a boat, public moorings are available in Tongue Bay, the starting point for the trail. Bare boats or private charters are available from Airlie Beach, Shute Harbour, and Hamilton Island." - Gary, kimkim Australia Specialist

"Whitehaven Beach is an absolute 'must do' from my side, and there are a variety of ways you can visit. There are full-day and half-day options that include either a boat transfer from Airlie Beach or Hamilton Island, or you could choose to fly there by helicopter, an experience I was able to have last year. Myself and my partner were flown to Whitehaven Beach and then dropped off for a romantic two-hour champagne picnic. We had the beach completely to ourselves, and it was an experience that will stay with us forever." - Vicky, kimkim Australia Specialist

Pontoon to Heart Reef

Discover the Heart Reef by water and air
Fly over the Great Barrier Reef's iconic heart-shaped coral formation, Heart Reef, on a tour

Enhance your itinerary with an exclusive, high-end excursion to Heart Reef, designed for travelers seeking a blend of romance and adventure. Think James Bond, but in the Whitsundays. You'll thrill to a helicopter ride over Whitehaven Beach. Then, after landing, admire the iconic reef from inside a glamorous glass-bottom boat. You'll also have time to snorkel or swim before boarding the helicopter again for your return journey.

For those mindful of their budget or time constraints, consider the alternative 70-minute scenic flight tour for a condensed yet equally exceptional view of the area's natural wonders. Learn more

Why our experts love it

"Swooping over the Heart Reef on our way to snorkel at the Reef World pontoon was a 'pinch me' moment I'll never forget—I've seen so many photos of it, but since Heart Reef only fully reveals itself from above, seeing it by air felt so surreal. If it's in the budget, I would say this is high on the list!" - Sam, kimkim's Destination Manager for Australia

Overnight Cruise on the Great Barrier Reef

Photo courtesy of Reefsleep
Spend the night onboard a pontoon (photo courtesy of Reefsleep)

While a daytime cruise on the Great Barrier Reef is remarkable, an overnight stay onboard a pontoon anchored 39 nautical miles (72 km) from the coast offers a unique and memorable excursion. Throughout the journey, you'll have time to snorkel, scuba dive, and view the underwater world from the pontoon's viewing chambers. Plus, a dinner under the twilight sky and a night spent tucked in a private daybed on the boat's shared deck ensures a deeply rejuvenating encounter with nature.

For those seeking an even more private and luxurious experience, consider asking your specialist to book you in at the high-end underwater hotel onboard, Reefsuites. While this option comes at a higher cost, it promises exclusive, fully private rooms. And did we mention you'll be waking up to fish swimming by? Learn more

Charter a Sailboat or Catamaran

Photo courtesy of Bareboat Sailing
Explore the Whitsundays bays and beaches by a chartered sailboat (photo courtesy of Bareboat Sailing)

Toss on your captain's hat and explore the Whitsundays' hidden bays and secret islands by chartering a sailboat or catamaran. If you have sailing knowledge, you can opt to travel privately. Or, hire a crew for a stress-free adventure catered to your preferences and the weather. This tour is best enjoyed over a minimum of three nights, which allows you to experience the secluded beaches and bays of the Whitsundays and Great Barrier Reef National Park at your own pace. Learn more

Why our experts love it

"Bareboat sailing is one of my absolute favorite trips in the Whitsundays. Waking up on a boat in a secluded bay and cooking breakfast, seeing the sunrise and sunset with no one else around, incredible snorkeling, feeling like you're one with nature, and seeing the moon reflected off the water... It's one of the best trips I've ever done." - Ruth, kimkim Australia Specialist

Go Sea Kayaking

Delight in a serene kayak experience in the Whitsundays Islands
Get the heart pumping on a kayak excursion to White Rock Island in the Whitsundays

For an exciting mix of fitness and discovery, embark on a sea kayaking adventure in the Whitsundays. You'll start from Shute Harbour, near Airlie Beach, set off across the channel in your kayak, and paddle to a small island home to sea turtles. Continue to White Rock Island, where you can hop out of your kayak to swim, hike, or unwind on the sandy beach before returning. Learn more

Why our experts love it

"The tour guides were so knowledgeable and friendly as we kayaked through the mangroves, learning about the local islands. Swimming and exploring around White Rock Island was a really fun and active way to explore the smaller islands close to land. To be safe, I recommend packing a few motion sickness tablets if you tend to get seasick (as I often do), although I had no troubles since our guides were plenty prepared with great snacks and emergency supplies." - Sam, kimkim's Destination Manager for Australia

Sunset Sailing Experience

Two ladies enjoying their trip on sailing boat while drinking wine and watching beautiful sunset
Enjoy the sunset while onboard a sailing experience from Airlie Beach

Witness the enchanting transformation of the Whitsundays at dusk with an Airlie Beach sunset sailing experience. This two-hour journey, perfect for adults seeking tranquility, welcomes you aboard with complimentary drinks and a tasty antipasto spread. As the sun sets, the sky becomes a canvas of pastel hues, adding to the serene ambience. With an adult-only maximum group size of 24, the experience ensures a relaxed and intimate setting, ideal for unwinding and embracing the beauty of the evening sea.

Land-Based Excursions

Bike South Molle Island

Explore Molle Island by bike
Explore Molle Island by e-bike, following your guide

Experience a different perspective of the Whitsundays with an e-bike tour on South Molle Island. Your journey begins with a scenic boat trip, followed by a ride through the island's national park. As you pause for photos at scenic spots like Mount Jefferys, Spion Kop, and Balancing Rock, your guide will unveil fascinating stories of the ancient Ngaro people, the original inhabitants of the Whitsunday Islands. Conclude your exploration with a refreshing dip in Sandy Bay. Learn more

Why our experts love it

"This was my unexpected favorite tour of the trip and something I never would have thought to book for myself (yet another reason why I love our local specialists)! The e-bikes made the hilly climbs effortless, and the views were absolutely stunning from the top. Whizzing down the trails at sunset to a white coral-filled beach for our boat pickup, surrounded by waving grasses and expansive views of the Great Barrier Reef National Park, was so stunning.

I really enjoyed our guide, who was incredibly knowledgeable about the history of the island's Ngaro Aboriginal people and the ways they used the grass plants to make different tools 9,000 years ago. Highly, highly recommend as a way to get off the beaten path, away from the crowds, and into the national park a bit more." - Sam, kimkim's Destination Manager for Australia

Golf the Great Barrier Reef

Photo courtesy of Hamilton Island Golf Course
Play a memorable round of golf (photo courtesy of Hamilton Island Golf Course)

The Hamilton Island Golf Course, designed by Peter Thomson, is a par 71, 18-hole course set against the dramatic backdrop of the Whitsunday Islands and the Coral Sea. Begin your outing with a scenic ferry ride from Hamilton Island Marina, and after your game, relax at the modern Clubhouse, enjoying a meal while taking in the panoramic views. Learn more

Why our experts love it

"If you love to golf, this spectacular course is a must-do for the bucket list." - Ruth, kimkim Australia Specialist

Learn About Local Wildlife

Learn about koalas and other Australian wildlife (Photo courtesy of Hamilton Island Wildlife park)
Learn about koalas and other native wildlife (photo courtesy of Hamilton Island Wildlife Park)

Australia is renowned for its intriguing wildlife, and a great way to get up close to them is by heading to Hamilton Island Wildlife Park. Here, you'll learn about the fascinating lives of koalas and have the chance to take your photo with one. During your visit, you'll also head out on a guided tour to feed, interact, and learn about other quintessential Australian animals. Learn more

Why our experts love it

"The Wildlife Park is conveniently located for those staying on (or stopping over at) Hamilton Island and a great way to fill an hour or two, not only for kids but anyone who wants to experience Australia's unique native wildlife. Be sure to say hi to Lucy, the wallaby!" - Sam, kimkim's Destination Manager for Australia

Camp on an Island

Camp on a secluded beach (photo courtesy of Scamper)
Camp on a secluded beach, like one on Hook Island (photo courtesy of Scamper)

Enjoy a night away immersed in nature by booking a camping trip to one of the undeveloped Whitsunday Islands. Options include Hook Island, located well away from the crowds and is home to the Ngaro Cultural Site, and the famous Whitehaven Beach, which is more popular but absolutely stunning. Camping gear and cooking equipment are included in this adventure, and if you'd like, food delivery and kayak rental can also be arranged. Learn more

Dine on Fresh Seafood

Mixed seafood platter with a tropical view
Savor seafood with a tropical view

As you're surrounded by water, the Whitsunday Islands are some of the best places in Australia to dine on fresh-caught seafood. Local favorite restaurants include Fish D'vine, Northerlies, and The Rocks Restaurant and Bar. For a classic fish and chips meal, visit Bird's Fish Bar, and for live music, head to KC's Bar and Grille.

Local tip

"Don't miss out on the local classic, Moreton Bay Bugs, while you're here—'bug' is a bit of a beloved Aussie misnomer because they're sort of like a cross between a lobster and a prawn (and they're absolutely delicious). While they're named for Moreton Bay, farther south near Brisbane, they can be found all along the coast and are a local favorite. If you're more into fish than shellfish, however, you can't go wrong with the Aussie classic, Barramundi." - Sam, kimkim's Destination Manager for Australia

Join an Indigenous Aboriginal Tour of the Whitsundays

Aboriginal teaching a woman how to throw a boomerang in Queensland Australia
Learn Aboriginal traditions on a cultural tour

For a fascinating journey into the Whitsundays' history, the Ngaro Indigenous Cultural Tour is a must-do experience. Starting from Coral Sea Marina in Airlie Beach and accompanied by a Ngaro guide, you'll explore two of the Whitsundays' most captivating islands while learning about ancient customs and traditional hunting techniques. Throughout, you'll explore a rainforest teeming with native flora and fauna, visit a historic cave adorned with Aboriginal rock paintings, and even learn the art of spear-throwing. Learn more

Explore the Mainland

A father and his two children walking along the Airlie Beach
Enjoy a picturesque walk along Airlie Beach

While in the Whitsundays, exploring mainland Queensland is also a great idea. Picturesque hikes include the short but challenging Honeyeater Lookout hike, the leisurely Coral Beach walking track, and the well-rounded Mount Rooper track. Or, for a more relaxed way to explore the mainland, kimkim's specialists can recommend a bus tour that features the region's waterfalls, sugar cane industry, secluded beaches, and coffee producers. 

Why our experts love it

"Another wonderful surprise, since I would never have thought to book a land-based excursion on my own. Not only was our guide a ton of fun and a font of local knowledge, but we also got to rope swing into the swimming pools at the base of a waterfall, relax on one of the quiet, locally loved beaches, and learn more about the sugar cane industry in the region we were visiting, which I always really enjoy. Pro tip: keep your camera ready for a croc-sighting at Proserpine River, which has the highest concentration in the area—they love to hang out in the murky waters!" - Sam, kimkim's Destination Manager for Australia

Plan your trip to Australia
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Best Time to Visit the Whitsundays

Amazing Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsunday Islands
Have fun in the surf and on the white sands of Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsunday Islands

Considering Australia's seasons are opposite to those in the northern hemisphere, December to February is summer in the Whitsunday Islands, while winter falls between June and August. Even so, the Whitsunday Islands are a year-round destination, and you'll find unique advantages and disadvantages to visiting during each season.

The best time to visit the Whitsunday Islands is during the shoulder seasons (fall and spring). During these times, the weather is generally mild and sunny, the crowds are smaller, and accommodation prices are lower. However, if you're specifically interested in swimming, snorkeling, or diving, you should visit during summer, when the water is warmest. On the other hand, if you're eager to spot humpback whales migrating and take advantage of low-season costs, traveling in winter is a great choice. It still offers warm weather and an opportunity to enjoy water activities.

Besides seasonal considerations, keep in mind that the Whitsunday Islands are a popular destination for domestic travel by Australians and can get very busy over the Christmas and New Year periods and school holidays.

Where to Stay in the Whitsundays

Choosing an island to base yourself on is essential to planning your Whitsunday Islands adventure. Each island had different amenities, activities, and accommodation options.

Where to Stay on Hamilton Island

Catseye Beach on Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays
Relax with a beverage of choice on Hamilton Island's Catseye Beach in the Whitsundays

Hamilton Island, the largest and most developed of the Whitsunday Islands, is ideal for couples, families, and luxury travelers seeking a comprehensive resort experience. It offers convenient access to a wide range of tours and activities, many of which include pickup directly from the island.

On Hamilton, you'll find a bustling marina-based town with shops, restaurants, bars, and easy access to water sports. Additionally, direct flights from major Australian cities make Hamilton Island more accessible than other islands, which typically require boat access. However, it's worth noting that Hamilton Island can become quite busy during peak season, so be sure to ask your local specialist to reserve spots for you at their favorite restaurants and activities.

Best for: families with young kids, groups, those looking to base themselves on a relaxing beach but still want plenty to do with access to tours and activities

Where to Stay in Airlie Beach

Enjoy the many restaurants located on Airlie Beach
Enjoy the many restaurants located on Airlie Beach

Although Airlie Beach is on the Australian mainland and not an island, it's an excellent choice for a base. This town offers a variety of accommodations and activities, making it particularly appealing to budget travelers and backpackers. In addition, most land and water-based activities pick up from Airlie Beach, making it convenient for adventurous travelers looking to fill their days with excursions rather than laze on the beach.

Another advantage of choosing Airlie Beach is its accessibility. You can fly into Proserpine Airport and then rent a car or take a shuttle transfer, enjoying the scenic views of sugar cane fields en route to the town. However, it's important to note that during the peak summer season, the area might be bustling, possibly less suitable for families or those seeking a tranquil holiday.

Best for: more budget-conscious travelers, travelers who like to be in the thick of it, those who like to adventure during the day and explore the bustling town at night, travelers who want to have lots of options, families and groups

Where to Stay on Hayman Island

Photo courtesy of InterContinental Hayman Island Resort
Opt for a luxury stay on Hayman Island (photo courtesy of InterContinental Hayman Island Resort

Featuring just one exclusive and secluded accommodation—the InterContinental Hayman Island Resort—Hayman Island is best for luxury travelers seeking relaxation and disconnection over tour-filled days. Here, you can delight in world-class amenities, a private beach, gourmet dining, and indulgent spa and wellness treatments. While the prices match its luxurious offerings, those seeking such an experience will find it well worth the value.

Best for: luxury-focused travelers, honeymooners, and couples, those who prefer to relax away from the crowds instead of take a lot of tours

Where to Stay on Long Island

Early morning sunrise on the boardwalk at Long Island
Enjoy an early morning sunrise on the boardwalk at Long Island

Long Island offers a serene escape in the region's most natural state for an authentic Whitsunday Islands stay. This less-developed island provides a unique blend of luxury and eco-friendly activities, with options ranging from high-end eco-retreats to rugged camping spots. Although off-island excursions are limited, its unspoiled environment and world-class diving opportunities more than compensate. Long Island's welcoming vibe makes it perfect for families, groups, and couples alike. 

Best for: off-the-beaten-track travelers, eco-minded travelers, and those who just want to relax and escape from it all

Why our experts love it

"Long Island is the ultimate blend of seclusion, nature, and luxury. With something for everyone—whether you're a family, friend group, or couple—the island has a range of accommodation offers to allow all to experience the magic of the island." - Laura, Tourism Whitsundays

Where to Stay on Daydream Island

Travelers getting ready to snorkel at a beach on Daydream Island
Travelers getting ready to snorkel at a beach on Daydream Island

Daydream Island is ideal for families seeking a relaxed resort experience centered around family-friendly activities. With attractions like a kids' club and a water park alongside accommodation options catering to budget-conscious and luxury-seeking travelers, the island suits families with all budgets. However, Daydream Island's somewhat isolated location means dining and nightlife options are limited, and arranging day trips for tours can be more challenging.

Best for: travelers who want to relax in (mainly) one place, families, and those who prefer a secluded resort-style experience

Best Hotels in the Whitsundays

From budget hostels to all-inclusive 5-star resorts, the Whitsunday Islands have accommodations options to suit all types of travelers and budgets. When choosing, it's important to consider location, amenities, and price.

Kimkim Favorite Accommodations

Stay at Hamilton Island Reef View Hotel
Enjoy delightful views from your hotel room (photo courtesy of Hamilton Island Reef View Hotel)

An overall top choice is the Reef View Hotel on Hamilton Island, which has amenities to suit families, couples, and groups, and its spacious suites offer the Coral Sea or tropical garden views. Alternatively, opt for a night in a Reefsuite for a slice of luxury, which allows you to sleep with underwater views of the Great Barrier Reef while onboard a permanently moored pontoon. Another elevated option is the award-winning Qualia, which features two outdoor swimming pools, a sauna, a fitness center, and the use of a golf buggy. 

Best Accommodations by Location

Opt for a delightful stay on Hamilton Island (photo courtesy of Yacht Club Villas)
Opt for a relaxing stay on Hamilton Island (photo courtesy of Yacht Club Villas)

Choosing an accommodation based on location gives you easy access to the activities you're most eager to tick off. If you're looking to stay on Airlie Beach, Coral Sea Marina Resort is centrally located and is close to town and the beachfront, while Big 4 Adventures Whitsundays is ideal for families with its on-site water park.

On Hamilton Island, great choices are Yacht Club Villas for families, Beach Club for honeymooners, Palm Bungalows for a budget-friendly choice, and the all-around top pick of Reef View Hotel. Meanwhile, on Hayman Island, the luxurious InterContinental is the only option.

Best Accommodations by Travel Style

Enjoy high-end amenities at Palm Bungalows (photo courtesy of Palm Bungalows)
Enjoy high-end amenities at Palm Bungalows (photo courtesy of Palm Bungalows)

Picking a hotel by its amenities and price can ensure you'll get the most out of your vacation. For families, both the Reef View Hotel on Hamilton Island and Coral Sea Marina Resort on Airlie Beach are top choices. Honeymooners should set their sights on the Beach Club or Qualia for a more high-end and private stay, while groups seek out private residences or book in at The Mirage.

Regarding prices, Airlie Guest House and Manta Club Croc are great options for budget-conscious travelers. At the same time, Palm Bungalows Hamilton Island is ideal for those with a midrange budget looking for a hotel with high-budget-worthy amenities.

How to Get to the Whitsundays

Arrive on Hamilton Island by water taxi
Arrive on Hamilton Island by water taxi

To get to the Whitsunday Islands, you can fly into Proserpine Airport, transfer to Airlie Beach, and either stay or catch a ferry to your island accommodation. Alternatively, arrive at Hamilton Island Airport and choose between staying on Hamilton Island or taking a ferry to nearby island resorts like Lizard, Daydream, or Hayman.

How to Craft the Perfect Whitsundays Itinerary

Plan the perfect trip to the Whitsunday Islands
Add a trip to the Whitsunday Islands to your Australian adventure

If you plan to visit Australia, the Whitsunday Islands are a natural addition to your itinerary for an immersive Great Barrier Reef experience. Give yourself one week in Australia for a well-rounded introduction to the region. The Whitsunday Islands also fit nicely into other Australian itineraries, especially when combined with Queensland destinations such as Port Douglas and Cairns. If you'd like to explore the country's east coast, from Cairns to Sydney, as well as Melbourne, plan for at least two weeks in Australia.

Discover how to plan your trip to Australia and the Whitsunday Islands:

How to Get to the Whitsundays
How Many Days to Spend in Australia

Past kimkim travelers have enjoyed the following itineraries that include experiences in the Whitsunday Islands:

Tropical North Queensland: Hamilton Island, Port Douglas, Cairns & More - 7 Days
Great Ocean Road & the Whitsundays - 9 Days
East Coast Aussie Adventure: Brisbane, Airlie Beach, Cairns, Adelaide & Sydney - 2 Weeks